Life as an Extreme Sport

Faith Healing and the Body

Tonight’s episode of House dealt with the idea of faith healing, something that comes up a lot these days in medical journals. What is the power of prayer? Does faith healing work? Can miracles happen?

I realize it’s a symptom of my interdisciplinary training, and perhaps of being under Phillip’s thumb in particular, but I think a more interesting question is why miracles can’t happen? After all, a miracle is just that which we don’t understand. As has been often remarked, our technically is magic to those who don’t understand how it works, as is often our medicine. The typical example is a cell phone in the rain forest, although I’d argue there’s an awful lot of technology and medicine that might as well be magic for our understanding – there is simply the belief, the faith that it will work, because someone is being told it will work.

How is that so different than hearing a faith healer tell you the same?

Of course, we of the rational, medical type say we have medicine, we can take the time to understand how technology works. But we can’t fully understand how the body works; we keep finding new things, miracles keep being rationalized and understood, filed away into things to learn and knowledge to distill.

If we have learned one thing, it’s that the body is an amazing thing. Who’s to say that the power of the placebo effect, the mind, isn’t enough to help some people? We know, scientifically, medically, that positive thinking does positively affect our health, including to help us recover from illness. Who knows?

We don’t, so it gets filed away as faith healing fakery and fraud. But in ten years, perhaps it will have a Latin name and a textbook. That’s the way knowledge goes, a part of life for both miracle and medicine.